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Q & A with Harry Rinker: Corning Opelle Christmas Ornaments, Redbird Painting

by Harry Rinker (10/16/12).

QUESTION: I have a 1994 Corning Opelle Christmas ornament featuring a cardinal. What can you tell me about the history of Corning’s Opelle Christmas ornaments and the value of my ornament?

– B., Reading, Pa.

ANSWER: My research attempts to find a history of Corning’s Opelle ornaments on the Internet failed. I was not surprised. When compiling the sixth (1996) and seventh (1999) editions of “The Official Price Guide to Collector Plates,” published by the House of Collectibles, manufacturers and distributors were unable to supply Rinker Enterprises with a complete list of previously manufactured plates. Fortunately, Rinker Enterprises had an arrangement with Collectors Journal (now Treasures) whereby Collectors Journal sent us all the advertising literature it received from collectors’ edition manufacturers and distributors. Most manufacturers and distributors do not maintain archives. Their focus is forward. The past holds little interest.

I contacted Yvette Sterbenk at the Corning Museum of Glass asking if she could provide me with a list of the Opelle ornaments Corning produced. About a month later, I received an e-mail from Christine Gable, research consultant at the Corning Incorporated Archives, which read: “We’ve been dealing with this same issue for a few years now—trying to get a listing & the dates of all Opelle ornaments. We haven’t done too well, but you can have what we’ve come up with.”

I am sharing Christine’s information so that future internet researchers will find this column and be able to identify and date the ornaments they own. As Christine notes, the list and information is not complete. If you have additional information, share it with Christine at gablek@corning.com.

“‘Opelle’ ornaments were made by Corning Glass Works / Corning, Inc. using a special photosensitive glass process, and were made from 1983 to 1994. The designs usually coincided with a holiday or other special event like Valentine’s Day. According to Corning’s corporate archives, they were made at the Erwin Materials FotoForm Department. In a typical year, 10,000 of each design were made.

“Corning Corporate Archives does NOT have a complete listing… The corporation mainly used these as Christmas gifts for employees and suppliers, although JC Penney and Taco Bell had accounts. A now-closed Christmas collectibles store on East Market Street, Corning also sold them. Michelle Cotton of Corning’s archives (CIDARM) said ‘that they test-marketed ‘tons’ of these and, if not approved, they just handed them around (making some hard to find).

“List chronologically:

1984 Snowflake
1985 Santa with toys
1986 Trimming the tree: Baby’s first Christmas (tree with child)
1987 Baby’s first Christmas (child in sleigh with Xmas tree pulled by parents)
1987 Happy Holidays (with bells)
1988 Partridge in a pear tree
1988 Dove of Peace
1989 Horn with pine cones (with and without date)
1989 Peace dove in flight
1990 Wreath with candle
1990 Drummer boy
1991 Peace on earth
1991 Sleigh bells ring
1991 ‘Lisa & Aniello’ in heart (dated 6/15/91) – in hands of a private collector
1992 Season for song
1992 Angel encircled in wreath
1993 Goose encircled in wreath
1994 Wreath with cardinal

“Date of manufacture not known for Christmas themes:

A Colorado Christmas
Angel Gabriel
Candle & pine bough
Christmas tree with presents
Corning NY clock tower
Dove
Fantasy (dragon)
Guerlain 1828
Home Sweet Home
Imagination (unicorn)
Mother’s Day
Peace on Earth
Reindeer
The Right Stuff Right Now, Cigna Resources
Santa with bag and baby
Santa with desk and list
Santa with pipe
Snowflake (many variations)
Snowy Owl
Teddy Bear
Three candles
Tranquility (heron)
Wreath

“Other themes include: Disney

“Corning World, Sept./Oct. 1991 has an insert after page 20 which shows three Opelle ornaments which are not identified or listed as for sale. These are a Christmas tree with presents underneath, a snowflake, and a wreath.

“‘Corning linked to Christmas past ‘Corning World. Dec. 1992, p.20. Advanced Materials group produced its first Christmas ornament in 1983.

“Information from Kris Gable and Gail Bardhan August/2009.”

In terms of the value of your 1994 Corning Opelle Christmas ornament, there is mixed news. “Buy It Now” eBay sellers are asking between $19.95 and $49.95 for Opelle ornaments. One overly optimistic seller wants $100 for a 1980s snowflake ornament. None are selling; no surprise. The asking prices are excessive.

WorthPoint lists several sales for Corning’s 1994 Opelle Christmas ornament featuring a cardinal in a wreath. On Nov. 8, 2011, an example closed at $14.99. On Jan. 12, 2007, an example sold for $20.46. The decline in value reflects the post 2008 Great Recession market. A realistic secondary market value for your ornament is between $14 and $16, better than the $5 or less I thought my research would reveal.

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QUESTION: More than 25 years ago, I purchased a painting by Robert Redbird at a thrift store. It is a winter landscape scene showing an Indian on horseback passing by a large rock formation with pine trees on the sides and in the background. I believe it is a painting because it has raised paint and brush strokes. The painting is signed on the bottom right “Robert Redbird // Kiowa /(feather symbol) / ©.” The frame measures 24 inches by 28 inches. When I researched the Internet, I found prints but no period art. I also did not find any prints that duplicated my example. What is my painting’s value?

– B., Bowie, Texas, via e-mail

ANSWER: The Carol Brooks Poster Gallery website contains this brief biography of Robert Redbird: “ROBERT REDBIRD was born in Oklahoma in 1939 to Kiowa Indian parents. The family’s tribal affiliation was to the Kiowa Gourd Clan. As a young child, REDBIRD always displayed an unusual interest in drawing and coloring. As he continued with his scholastic studies, his teacher became more aware of REDBIRD’s…artistic ability….He became extremely skillful and prolific in this method [watercolor] and Kiowa folklore emerged in his paintings….Indian symbols of pottery, feathers, eagle, and mountains became the unmistakable mark….Two of his original paintings are part of the permanent collection of the Heard Museum in Phoenix, Arizona.”

Using the photographs attached to your e-mail, I also spent time on the internet searching for works by Richard Redbird executed in a similar style to the item you own. Like you, I was unsuccessful. However, I have no concern that the item you own was done or licensed by Redbird.

I am not as convinced as you are that this is a painting as opposed to a print. There are printing techniques, such as silk screen, that can duplicate both effects. The flatness of the signature concerns me. In respect to value, Robert Redbird still being alive impacts value. He can continue to create new art and prints, even duplicating some of his earlier work.

I did find art galleries selling Robert Redbird art and prints. The average asking price for Redbird’s art is between $400 and $500. Contemporary prints are priced around $200. Galleries normally take a 50-percent commission when selling the work of a contemporary artist. Hence, the secondary market value of any contemporary gallery bought piece is reduced by 50 percent the minute the buyer walks out the door.

If I am right in my analysis and you own a print, its value is primarily decorative and between $75 and $100. Double the value if it is a painting.

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QUESTION: I inherited a collection of approximately 100 “Made in Czechoslovakia” wall pockets. I want to sell them. What is your advice?

– C., Sedalia, Mo.

ANSWER: Wall pockets enjoyed a collectors’ craze in the 1990s. Marvin and Joy Gibson’s “Collectors Guide to Wall Pockets” was published by L-W Books in 1994, Betty Newbound’s “Collector’s Encyclopedia of Wall Pockets, Identification and Values” by Collector Books in 1995, and Fredda Perkins’ “Wall Pockets of the Past: Collector’s Identification and Value Guide” by Collector Books in 1995. In 2003, Schiffer Publishing published Mark Basset’s “American Art Pottery Wall Pockets.” The publication market has been quiet since, a reflection of the decline of collector interest over the past decade.

Assuming all your wall pockets are marked “Czechoslovakia” or “Made in Czechoslovakia,” they most likely date from the 1920s through the late 1930s. They feature bright bold colors, typical of the Art Deco period.

If selling your collection privately, sell it as a unit. Do not allow buyers to “cherry pick it,” meaning the buyers select the best and leave the junk. If you decide to send the collection to auction, be prepared for the auctioneer to offer the collection in lots of five to 10 examples.

Alas, there are no wall pocket or Art Deco collectors’ clubs. Hence, this sales venue is not available. Your best auction choice is a strong regional house near a large metropolitan market. Focus on New York, Chicago or Los Angeles markets. If there is a Modernist focused antiques mall, such as the Broadway Antique Mall in Chicago, or a Modernist show near you, visit the mall and/or show, talk to dealers about your collection (take pictures), and gauge possible buying interest. Try for a final sale price of $20 per unit if selling to a dealer. EBay is not an option. It no longer favors the small independent seller.

If the collection consisted of American-made wall pockets, I would have suggested approaching some of the pottery museums in Ohio and West Virginia. Given the wall pockets’ Czechoslovakian origin, this is a stretch. Yet, it never hurts to ask.

Good luck disposing of the collection.

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Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out Harry’s Web site..

You can listen and participate in Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show “Whatcha Got?” on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. It streams live on the Genesis Communications Network.

“Sell, Keep Or Toss? How To Downsize A Home, Settle An Estate, And Appraise Personal Property” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web site..

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected queries will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Pond Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.

Copyright © Rinker Enterprises, Inc. 2012

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